Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Nicholas Riley responded to my response regarding his post about OS X and instability. It seems we have had very different experiences using the operation system.

It would be interesting to note the differences in our usage styles; why my environment is so stable whereas Nicholas is experiencing such frustration.

Bill Bumgarner responds to my post earlier today about OS X stability. Writing an OS, and drivers, is hard, I don't doubt it, and I don't claim I could do better because I haven't tried. However, what I complain about mainly is that OS X does not have the quality of OS 9. Nothing I see makes me think that the time has been spent to do a really good job not the kernel, not the drivers or SDKs, not Project Builder, nor command-line tools, and especially not the Finder, the poster child for "unfinished, slow, flaky and buggy" in OS X. That I have to restart the Finder on average 10 times a day is not acceptable.

I used OS 9 (and 8) for the past few years in a purely consumer role; managing digital camera pictures, printing letters/cards/calendars, scanning images, writing documents, burn CDs, browsing the internet, etc... I tried to stick as close to the baseline set of software Apple shipped. I didn't install any goofy hacks or extensions and generally tried to keep up to date on drivers once the rest of the world determined they were stable/usable. This was on two separate machines; a dual processor G4 450 and an iMac 500.

In general, I had to reboot the system every 3 hours. As a whole, the system felt like a toy. It was impossible to do something in the background even if the apps claimed they could do so. Apps constantly ran out of memory, even after I had to go through the really stupid memory configuration dialogs in the finder. If any app crashed, it was assumed I had to reboot. If I played a game, it was pretty much assumed I would have to reboot after quitting.

In my experience, Mac OS 9/8 was less stable than a comparably configured Windows 98/2000 box. By a long shot. Of course, Mac OS 9/8 are about 10x more pleasant visually and intuitively than any form of Windows and I could live with the instabilities in the name of not becoming nauseous any time I looked at the screen.

The second processor on the dual processor machine was a complete and utter waste. I don't use PhotoShop and, as such, the processor sat idle 99% of the time.

My experiences with OS X 10.0 was better than OS 9/8 in terms of stability thought OS X 10.0.x certainly felt like a beta more than a production OS.

However, my experiences with OS X 10.1 are completely different than OS 9. For me, the operating system has been rock solid. I have yet to have a filesystem become corrupted (happened half a dozen times on OS 9) and I have had exactly one kernel panic since upgrading to 10.1 (and that was my own fault)-- under OS 9, the system locked up-- paniced-- once every three hours, on average.

Drivers generally *just work*, but-- admittedly-- I'm using a set of devices that are fairly main stream.

I don't run into any goofy memory problems. I can print pages 459 to 578 of the 600 page, graphic riddled, book manuscript I'm editing from OS X. No can do from OS 9 no matter what I do with memory configuration-- the system locks up regardless of configuration of any of the apps, the printing infrastructure, virtual memory, etc..

In general, I can push the system really hard with no worries that it is going to crash. I have often simultaneously processed multiple gigabytes of data (image or text processing) through multiple applications in a piped configuration, compiled and debugged fairly complex GUI based applications, browsed the web, pulled down multi-megabyte emails, and been copying multi-gigabytes of data to/from a firewire drive. In any random combination of simultaneous-- occasionally all at once-- with the system not even blinking beyond becoming relatively choppy (expected, given the I/O load). Even while writing this weblog entry on the train, I have multiple multithreaded processes actively running; Radio, FrontBase (relational database engine), a couple of WebObjects applications, Project Builder is building stuff and running it under GDB, Mail is sitting around waiting for a network connection, apache is doing its thing, etc..). I could never do that on OS 9 without the OS becoming so unstable as to be unusable-- it was generally do one thing, finish, sometimes reboot, do one other thing.

I would agree that the Finder is broken, but I haven't had to restart the Finder in months. Most of the 'brokeness' is either lack of features that were there before, inability to deal with a truly multitasking environment gracefully, or completely broken failure modes (all of which I have reported to -- have you? Do so. I have filed around 250 reports and, over time, almost all have been resolved in a useful fashion).

This isn't to say that X is perfect. There is a lot of refinement left to do. Every release has brought a bit more. It is going to see if 10.2 brings as much change and improvement as did 10.1.

The MP3 driver I'm using shipped with Mac OS X, I have a Creative Nomad II. This player is still sold, although not the exact model I use (DAP-0001). The plugin bundle in iTunes says "Copyright Apple Computer, Inc. 2001", so I assume it means Apple wrote it and should be supporting it like they're not. In fact the usability of my Nomad has gone down in iTunes 2.x, unlike in 1.x I can no longer drag files onto it after files have started uploading, so I have to either wait for the upload to complete, or create a playlist as a temporary storage area before dragging it to my Nomad. In the flakiness department, I often have to connect and disconnect the player 2 or 3 times before it registers in iTunes (and pray that it doesn't crash). A robust, stable OS, or applications software (iTunes) does not require that I try something multiple times and work around crashes.

Yep -- that sucks. I went through something similar with my Sony DSC-F505 digital camera with OS X 10.0. It sort of worked, at first, but would crash the kernel. A couple of updates later removed the kernel panic-- most of the time-- but the camera would not work at all. Yet other DSC-F505 owners reported success.

The end result was that Sony had changed the F505 firmware over time. Most companies do in the name of reducing manufacturing costs or fixing minor bugs. It is very likely that if you were to buy a Nomad II off the shelf today with the exact same model number of the one you have now [if it is still available], it would have different firmware then the one you have now.

Apple likely doesn't receive any kind of a notice that these changes have been made. They supported the Nomad II by either buying one (likely at Fry's :) off the shelf or by convincing Creative to provide them with an evaluation unit. In any case, it is quite likely that your firmware revision is different than the one Apple wrote the driver against and, as such, Apple may never have seen the crashes you are experiencing.

The best thing you can do is to take a digital picture of the kernel crash information (or write it down) and file a bug via 9:31:44 AM